Moonage Daydream

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 36.60750°N / 118.698°W
Additional Information Route Type: Ice Climbing
Seasons Season: Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Difficulty: WI4
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 6
Additional Information Grade: III
Sign the Climber's Log


Moonage Daydream (AKA Watchtower Gully) is probably the longest water ice climb in California. When it forms completely (which doesn't happen every year) it is around 1,000 feet, or 6-7 pitches long. The nature and difficulty (nominally WI4) of the climb depends entirely on how much ice there is, and where it is. The route forms from melt water flowing from the west-facing snowfields above, so the ice starts forming at the top, and then works its way down. If not fully formed, the lower section may be dry rock, thin ice, or verglas and snow-covered hell. The technical crux will vary, but will be found on the lower half of the climb. If you're planning on attempting this route be aware that it is threatened by avalanche from the slopes above the climb, as well as the snowfield halfway up. Beacons and probes aren't the answer--just stay away if you have information suggesting that either might be unstable. It could ruin your whole day.


From Lodgepole, follow the Tokopah Valley trail from the east end of the parking lot a little more than a mile until you are directly beneath the climb. There are many options available for reaching the base of the route. All involve finding a way across the stream, followed by steep snow, and possibly ice covered slabs. The most straightforward approach continues past the climb 100-200 yards until you see an open slope leading up and right towards some trees just beneath the start of the route. This approach avoids having to contend with rock steps, water ice, and possibly unstable snow on top of ice.

Route Description

There is no mystery as to where the route lies. The first pitch ascends a pillar spilling out of a lower angle gully. The gully dead ends in a headwall, above which lies a couple of hundred feet of steep snow. 3-4 pitches to the snowfield, depending on where you place belays. Above the snow lie two beautiful cascades of ice over steep slabs. Though these are more like WI3 in difficulty, they are quite striking from below, and aesthetic to climb. The upper step is a full 60m rope length to an ice belay, or about 70m to a tree belay.

Supposedly, if the first pitch isn't formed, it is possible to bypass on rock to the right. This is of course completely dependent on conditions. If dry, this option might be in the 5.9 range, but snow and ice could make it considerably more difficult.


There are two strategies for descending, neither of which involves returning to the base of the route, so don't leave anything behind. From the end of the technical difficulties continue upslope to a ridge. From here, either start traversing south until you encounter the Pear Lake trail, and follow it to Wolverton (where you of course had the foresight to stash a car), or search for a way west and then north back into Tokopah Valley, and thence to Lodgepole. The former is longer, but the walking is quite mellow. The latter has the advantage of landing you back where you started, but depending on which chute you try to descend, the going may get rather steep. The further west you go before dropping down into the valley, the easier it will be. Depending on conditions, allow 1-2 hours for the descent, more if you are real tired or the snow is especially deep. Rapelling the route is possible, though not desireable, as it may be difficult to find good rock anchors on the way down, and the ice may or may not offer opportunities for V-threads where you need them. Double ropes would be very useful if you have to bail.

Essential Gear

A 60m rope can be useful, but the climb can be done with a 50m. Depending on how well the lower half of the route has formed, rock gear (including pitons) may be necessary. Unless you're climbing it in really fat conditions, bring some short screws.



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